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Lawyer for female midshipman says client was punished after sexual assault claim

Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on military sexual crimes, Sen. John McCain said he "could not" recommend that anyone's daughter join the military given the continued reports of sexual misconduct. The Pentagon estimates as many as 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted or abused in 2012. Only 3,600 actually reported the attacks. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

A lawyer for a female midshipman who accused three U.S. Naval Academy football players of raping her last year said her client was actually disciplined for drinking while her alleged attackers went unpunished.

"The message that was being sent loud and clear was that she was getting in trouble for coming forward, and yet nothing was happening to the men who were involved in the wrongdoing," said Susan Burke, an attorney for the woman.

One of the accused, however, had his graduation put on hold last week pending the investigation's findings. The other two are juniors at the Annapolis, Md., school.

A spokesman for the Naval Academy said the school's leadership is monitoring the investigation and "evaluating the appropriate options for adjudication."

"It is completely inappropriate to make any other public comment on this investigation or any ongoing investigation as we risk compromising the military justice process,” an Academy spokesman said in a statement.

Sources told NBC News last month that the woman initially reported the incident in 2012 and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service immediately launched an investigation.

It is alleged that the three men, whom she knew and considered friends, had non-consensual sex with her at different points throughout the night, according to sources.

Four months later, the woman dropped the complaint and she stopped cooperating with investigators. But in February of 2013 she renewed her complaint and the investigation continued.

Burke told NBC that her client was "ostracized" for the accusations and that the incident was "widely known at the Naval Academy."  

In 2007 the Academy expelled Navy quarterback Lamar Owens Jr. in a sexual assault case. Owens was ultimately acquitted of sexual assault, but found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer.

On Tuesday the nation's top military commanders appeared before Congress for a hearing on the rising number of sexual assaults in the military and how the cases are handled. 

In fiscal year 2012, the number of reported assaults increased 6 percent to 3,374 — up from 3,192 from fiscal year 2011 – and the number of people who made an anonymous claim that they were sexually assaulted rose from 19,000 to 26,000, according to an annual Pentagon report released earlier this month.

NBC News’ Courtney Kube contributed to this report